Comma celebrates its first half century
2015 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Comma Oil & Chemicals Ltd. In the half century since it was established, Comma has evolved from a fledgling, privately owned blender of mineral motor oils to become the leading supplier of high quality contemporary engine lubricants, coolants and automotive chemicals to the UK independent aftermarket.
Today, under the ownership of Brazilian energy giant Cosan Lubricants, the company is rapidly extending its global reach and has introduced the Comma brand to new markets in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia Pacific.
Building the heritage
In 1965, when Comma's founders filled the very first cans of Comma oil in Dartford, Kent, they took on competition from over three hundred other such enterprises selling lubricants in the UK. But the ambitious young duo had a good grounding in the distributive side of the car parts and accessories trade, and by focusing early on the vehicle servicing sector, the company very soon built a loyal customer base and an enviable reputation for the quality of its products and service.
The business flourished, but the destabilising oil and energy crises of the 1970's and '80s signalled that the company's continued prosperity would rely on a guaranteed supply of quality base oil for the synthetic engine lubricants that were taking over the market previously occupied by traditional mineral products. In 1989, the directors secured Comma's future when they negotiated a full buy-out of the company by Esso Petroleum Company Ltd.
Having relocated in 1981 to new manufacturing and administrative headquarters in Gravesend, Kent, the company enjoyed a period of sustained and rapid growth, continuing to market its products successfully under the Comma brand and developing and distributing premium quality lubricants and chemicals for third parties. By the time Esso became part of the merged ExxonMobil in 1999, Comma had private label alliances with many leading brands such as Land Rover, Toyota, Unipart, Caterham, Glysantin®, the AA and Black & Decker, while also developing and supplying extensive ranges of Esso and Mobil branded chemical ancillaries for its parent company.
Riding the tide of change
From a market perspective, the introduction in 1996 of the ACEA lubricants standards marked the most important transitional change in lubricant technology from mineral-base to synthetic-based products, and Comma immediately became a signatory to the Technical Association for the European Oil Industry's (ATIEL) European Lubricant Quality standard, EELQMS.*
Throughout this period of change, Comma was at the forefront of developing and supplying what vehicle manufacturers - and therefore the market - required to service the increasingly powerful and complex vehicles with which workshop technicians were being confronted. Lubricants effectively went from being almost a 'one-size-fits-all' commodity to becoming engine-specific part numbers equivalent to hard parts components. Comma was always among the first to bring them to the aftermarket, and support its independent distributor partners with ground-breaking innovations in applications, sales, marketing, training and communications tools.
As coolant technology also advanced in lock-step with engine lubricants, Comma entered into a licensing agreement with BASF, Europe's leading industrial chemicals producer, to introduce to the UK a range of the German company's Glysantin® based all-seasons antifreeze coolants branded as Comma Xstream®. Delivering advanced protection to the many different cooling and engine component materials with which they come into contact, the range covers the automotive aftermarket coolant requirements for silicate-based (G48®), OAT-based (G30®) and Si-OAT-based (G40®) products.
Motorsport – The ultimate proving ground
Throughout its history, Comma has always been prepared to test and prove the quality and performance of its products by exposing them to the unforgiving scrutiny of motorsport competition. In most recent times, Comma has partnered the winners of the international 2012 FIA Formula 2 and 2014 GP2 championships, while long-standing technical partnerships with Motor Sport Vision (MSV) and its world renowned PalmerSport corporate driving experience continue to serve as unique, 2-million-miles-a-year 'real world' proving grounds for Comma products.
An exciting future beckons
Cosan Lubricants – the São Paulo based Mobil licensee in Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay – purchased Comma from ExxonMobil in 2012. Major new capital investments and initiatives were embarked upon to extend manufacturing and logistics capabilities at Gravesend, while refreshing the Comma brand image for an ambitious thrust into previously unexplored global markets. By the beginning of 2015, distribution partnerships for the Comma brand had been established in over 40 global markets contributing to sustained year-on-year growth in revenues and profitability.
"As we embark on the second half of Comma's first century, we remain dedicated to our core values of customer service, product excellence and absolute commitment to fulfilling the needs and requirements of end-user professional service technicians," says Cosan Lubricants chief executive, David Hopkinson. "We will always be responsive to the changing demands and challenges of the aftermarket, and look forward with great confidence and optimism to the continued success of the Comma brand. It has already come a long way, but has an even more exciting future ahead of it."
*ATIEL is the responsible body for establishing strict benchmarks for auditing the development and production of engine lubricants, and is also the sole industry-recognised validator of the ACEA claims.